The Archives

Discussion: Inside Out

A new Pixar movie is always cause for celebration. But with such a long string of films that are more like soft, huggable security blankets than mere films, I always go into the theater a bit anxious, worried that I'm going to be let down and disillusioned. Sorry, Brave, but you were an itchy blanket that smelled like cheese and Mom threw you out. Jennifer and I saw Inside Out this weekend and I'm pleased to report that I'll be hugging it until it's old, dirty, threadbare, gnawed at the corners, and begging for a biohazard warning. I loved it from the first frame to the last, in fact I didn't want it to end---and I'm hoping maybe it won't until we've seen a sequel or two because there's nearly endless potential for further stories. Go see the movie. Especially if you're a human. I'd love to hear what everyone else thought of it.

No Half Responses

This is only a small reflection on a large theme. A few videos and animations have made the rounds in recent years. These show the scale of the universe. I like being able to scroll from the smallest to largest known object in the universe, and it is fun to see the scale of the Minecraft world along the way. The size of the Virgo Supercluster is mind boggling, yet it is a spec. And seeing the scale of earth next to the largest known star, then realizing that the largest known star is just a pin prick of light in any of the billions of galaxies in the universe, well, it is marvelous beyond comprehension. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the start of all revelation. It is how the revelation of scripture begins and it is how the revelation of nature begins. Our modern understanding of the scale of the known universe does not disprove a creator God, it merely underscores what ancients understood by the power of intuition; namely, a creator God must be powerful beyond measure. If there is a creator God responsible for all that exists, regardless of how that God went about making it, that God is so powerful and awesome and impressive that if we ever came into that God’s presence then we would feel utterly powerless and insignificant and diminutive. This is a God who ignites supernovas a million times over as part of the creative process. We could expect our lives would be nothing to that God. Should we ever face that God, the only logical expectation would be instantaneous annihilation. But, if for even a moment that God paid attention to us, if even for a split second we were shown mercy, then our response would have to switch from terror to worship. These are the options before the face of the creator God, and the options would present themselves in an instant: Insignificance and the expectation of immediate annihilation or else mercy and the hope of unending love. A moment of mercy before the creator God necessitates our eternal adoration.

Napping for Success

[Editor's note: For more of Jonny's work, be sure to check out his graphic novel, Martin & Marco, in the store, and visit his website to see what else he's been up to when he's not napping for inspiration.] (Click the image to view full size.) napping

Tonight: Andrew Osenga LIVE

Andrew Osenga is playing a FREE solo show tonight (Thursday) at Judson Baptist Church on Franklin Road in Nashville. Show time is 7:00PM. Come on out!

Twenty Years

“When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” – African Proverb   Twenty years ago when I married my wife, I did not know her. And she did not know me. We were two. We were kids just out of college. I was twenty-two and she was twenty-one. Neither of us knew much about life outside of the nest. But we knew we wanted to figure it out together—the two of us. I didn’t know it then, but when it came to our marriage I wasn’t just learning how to be a husband, nor she just a wife. I was learning how to be her husband, and she was learning how to be my wife. Though this would certainly lead us to ways of relating common to any marriage, it would also forge a relationship as unique to this world as a fingerprint. Our marriage created an empty library, and we were two containers of books out at the curb, waiting to be brought in, cataloged, and shelved.

England: Day Six

[Day One] [Day Two] [Day Three] [Day Four] [Day Five: Part One] [Day Five: Part Two] Eric slept soundly that night in Hay-on-Wye, little Z's floating up from his beard and hovering near the ceiling for a few moments before gliding down to rest on the many old books piled around him. I slipped out of my bed, army crawled across the floor and, with a little fan of my fingers, tried to snatch his copy of The Great Divorce, Indiana Jones-style. Alas, Eric had gone to sleep with the book tucked under his arm, and every time I gave it a little tug he snorted and a fresh batch of Z's poofed out of his mumbling mouth. None of the above is true, but you get the picture.

Songless

I know what it means to soar. When I was twelve years old, I got called out by my algebra teacher for writing stories in class. It was humiliating to have every eye in the room pinned in my direction—and it wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last. I couldn’t help it, though: that back corner desk by the window was too near the real world of birdsong and daydreams, and that story was too intoxicating. My bonneted heroine had just toppled over in a buggy, for heaven's sake, driven, if memory serves me, by her deceptively demure rival. It was no time to be thinking of integers and variables (as if there ever was a time I willingly submitted my mind to such imponderables!). I still remember that notebook, purchased by my mother for the ostensible purpose of mathematical equations. But the thick, college-ruled paper was just too much for me: I almost saw the words on the page before my #2 pencil formed them. My heart jolted along in the wake of that tale, giddy as my girl in her careening buggy. Writing wasn’t work—how could it be? It was flying. By the time I was seventeen, writing had become a much more serious business

From the North Wind Library: More Than Words

[Editor's note: If you've been to Hutchmoot in the last few years, you may remember Sarah Geil's delightful smile. She's been a welcome volunteer in the past and we're pleased to have her working with us in Nashville again this summer. She's an English major at Shorter University in Georgia and is a promising writer in her own right.] Like beauty, books are meant to be shared. The library at North Wind Manor has been created as a place for books to be shared. With sections such as “Ghost Stories” and “Literary studies,” “Rabbit Room Authors” and “Children’s Books,” “Philosophy” and “Theology,” and entire shelves devoted to Lewis and Tolkien, this is no ordinary library. We thought it would be fun to feature some of the books housed at the library, while also welcoming those in the area to stop by and borrow a book. To kick off this series of posts, today we’re featuring More Than Words: Contemporary Writers on the Works That Shaped Them, a series of essays compiled by Philip Yancey that examines the bookshelves of twenty-one authors. In one chapter of the book, Walter Wangerin Jr. exactly captures the power of a story, and in doing so encapsulates the purpose of the entire book:

This is how the tales of Hans Christian Andersen so mightily influenced me. They were my world for a while. They named and shaped the universe in which I dwelt, and something of that shape has remained forever: not the fantasy but the faith that created the fantasy continues even now to explain existence. By his fairy tales Hans Andersen welcomed me to his bosom, and I delivered myself for safekeeping unto him. Those things which were horrible and senseless in my external world were, in Andersen’s world, horrible still; but his stories gave them a sense (often a spiritual sense) which I could grasp, by which the horror might be mastered, if not by me then by someone, by goodness, by God.” –Walter Wangerin, Jr., “Shaping the Child’s Universe,” More Than Words, pg 133
In More Than Words, contemporary authors such as Eugene H. Peterson and Robert Siegel discuss the writers who have shaped their stories. From Luci Shaw to Shakespeare, tributes are raised in such a way that will leave the reader with a long list of books to read, of worlds to explore, and of libraries to make home. If you find yourself at North Wind Manor, you are invited to check out More than Words or any other book on the shelves, enter a world, let goodness and God master the horrors, and be shaped.

Overspray

A few years back I was the copywriter on a team that was working on an ad campaign for a huge national organization. We were in a meeting one day with one of the higher-ups in the organization—the Director of Marketing, I think it was. In any case, he was high enough up to fire us if he wanted to, and he was talking like he wanted to. He was chewing us up one side and down the other for some ideas that he thought were terrible. He took a quick bathroom break, leaving us at the table to give each other significant, raised-eyebrow looks. When he came back to the table, the tirade picked up where it had left off. But from where I was sitting, I could see the man’s shoes. Black wingtips, glistening with drops of overspray from his peeing. I felt ever so much better. Nothing he could say could hurt me. I wasn’t the one who had peed on my shoes.

Cultivating Creativity

At the start of each day for the past week, I've been doing an ink warm-up drawing to keep my ink skills flowing. A lot of my final illustrations are done using traditional dip pens and nibs. I find that I get a little stiff and rusty if I'm not using them frequently, and with the span of time between final art on projects, I tend to have months in some cases where I'm not inking at all. Nibs have a specific direction and movement that they allow for and you have to get into a natural flow or your lines look really stiff. One morning I sat down and thought, I'll draw a frog man. No other thought. The result was a little, squat toad with some wanderer's accessories. Cute enough. I posted it to Instagram, as I usually do, in hopes of inspiring someone out there watching me. My wife, Gina, who was sitting out on the brick patio pulling weeds and tending to the moss growth, happened to be that person on that day.

Song of the Week: “Walking Song”

Ron Block served as the featured performer at Hutchmoot 2o13 with the official release show for Walking Song, his latest album co-written with RR contributor Rebecca Reynolds. The album features a guest list of Nashville's finest players, and the songs feel like classic bluegrass offerings even upon first listen. Check out the title track, "Walking Song", which features Kate Rusby, to hear an accomplished musician in his finest hour. “Walking Song” by Ron Block from the album Walking Song [audio:WalkingSong.mp3] Use coupon code "WalkingSong" this week to get 10% off the album.

Aging Into Art

It's likely you've never heard the name Katsushika Hokusai, but his work informs our thinking when it comes to what we perceive as Japanese art. For example, you've probably seen some form of his most famous painting (above), known simply as "The Great Wave," which is part of a larger series called 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Hokusai lived from 1760-1849, and started training as an artist around the age of 12, but only produced his most important work, including "The Great Wave," after 60. I had a chance to view a special exhibition of his work this past week at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Amidst the many prints was a quote from the artist himself, which caught my attention:

From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about 50, my pictures were frequently published; but until the age of 70, nothing that I drew was worthy of notice. At 73 years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects, and fish. Thus when I reach 80 years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at 90 to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at 100 years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.
Hokusai's thoughts present a startling contrast to our culture obsessed with youth and quick success, and they hint at the long, disciplined process of mastery. What do you think of Hokusai's words as they apply to the life of the artist, or to life in general?

Writing with Flannery O’Connor

Writing with Flannery O'Connor---my six-week online course---is starting Monday. Here's the introductory lecture. To register, click here.

Bible Study @ North Wind Manor w/ Michael Card

Earlier this year at North Wind Manor, we began hosting a series of Bible studies taught by singer/songwriter/biblical-ninja Michael Card. Michael has been a joy to learn from; the joy and wonder that inform his approach to teaching Scripture are contagious, and each time he's been here he's left me with a new appreciation of some aspect of the Gospel. For the past couple of months, Michael's schedule has been full and the North Wind Manor studies have been on hold. But now that life has slowed down a little, we've got him back on the schedule. He'll be here twice this month, on June 11th and June 25th. Both studies will begin at 7pm (please don't arrive before 630pm) and we ask folks to bring a snack to share with the group. Drinks are on us. There's no charge but space is limited, so you must RSVP to [email protected] if you'd like to come. We'll respond to confirm and let you know the address. We'll also have copies of Mike's Bible commentaries on hand if you'd like one of your own to study with.

Monster in the Dark

[In the early summer of 2013, I contracted a blood-born bacteria which required open-heart surgery. Since then, I have been writing about that season, using my personal experience as a setting to discuss the relationship between affliction and faith. The following is a potential chapter from these writings, if they should one day be put together into a book. This piece explores the subject of depression from a person who was writing about it in real time. Um, enjoy?] I am depressed. My doctors told me this might happen—a detail my wife recently reminded me of when she saw the dark clouds rolling in. She has seen this in me before; we both have. Still, even though being depressed is nothing new, this particular depression—because it is mine now—feels new. It always does. My prior experience with this dark night of the soul tells me that, when unchecked, it has a tendency to become something untamable. And no matter how many times I’ve walked down this road, I still struggle to see it for what it is. When a child hears a tapping on his bedroom window at night, until he turns on the light to see that it is only a branch blowing in the wind, it might was well be the knuckles a dragon come to carry him off to its lair where his bones will be licked clean. I know from experience that when I leave the voices in the dark unnamed, they become monsters. Tap. Tap. Tap. They try to persuade me to climb into their bubbling cauldron on my own volition. So in an effort to overcome the darkness, I am going to turn on the light the only way I know how: I am going to describe what I see and hear and feel, and then I am going to look into what winds are blowing that cause the tapping that has me so troubled. This is what my depression feels like. This is my monster.